"...I want off this world now."
"So do I. I have to be honest with you."
Demyx sighed and looked up as much as he dared, shielding his eyes against the giant orange-red sun that hung low in the burning sky. He felt like he was on a deathbed watch in a graveyard, except the world he and Axel were in was both burial ground and moribund. They'd been sent to lay the groundwork for retrieving the world's heart before the helium flash - whatever that was; Demyx didn't understand the concept any too clearly beyond the fact that the entire system would be deep-fried in an instant - but quite honestly, he would have been more than happy to fuck off and let the world die naturally. "I don't even like to think about what happens to worlds when they die, let alone have to watch the process," he complained aloud, kicking a rock to emphasize his point. "I mean...is there even any intelligent life on this planet anymore? If there isn't, we could call Roxas in right now and have done."
"Last reports said there were," Axel said, digging the mission papers out of his pocket and having to shield his eyes just from the glare of sunlight on paper. "I think the last reports from this world were...not within any of our lifetimes, but...society here has kind of been going technologically backwards as the population shrank. When the sun started to expand, they had high enough technology to bail from their homeworld and move further out in the solar system, set up nice, protected domed cities for themselves, and...now they're using spears and hand axes as their weapons of choice. They may have forgotten how to work metal at all by now."
"They may all be extinct by now," Demyx groused, as Axel slid his hood back for a moment to scratch his head. "Put your hood back up, you moron. You've probably already sunburned."
"Shut up," Axel said petulantly, putting his hood back up. "I put sunscreen on before we left."
"Axel, look at the size of this sun. I don't know if they manufacture sunscreen anywhere in the worlds to cope with that kind of solar radiation. Besides, you flash-fry under a normal sun."
"I do not!"
"Axel, you do. There's so much photographic evidence I wouldn't bother to deny it. Besides, Mr. Pure-Irish-And-Proud-Of-It, the Irish aren't known for their wonderful sun tolerance."
"All right, all right, shut up. I got my hood back on."
"Good," Demyx grunted, his gaze turning to the ground. They were walking along what used to be the bed of a wide and mighty river, but now it was down to a narrow creek he could hop over on one foot without much trouble. Clusters of weedy plants grew thick around the banks, a few of them sporting dingy cream-colored flowers, but there was no living plant life that Demyx could see further than a foot from the water. When the river dried up completely, even these weeds would no doubt shrivel and die, and the scalding sun was doing its best to evaporate away every drop of water on this world. Including him, which was as uncomfortable a thought as it was a feeling. How long did the world have before there was no liquid water left anywhere - in other words, how long was any life on this world going to exist? Even if the helium flash was delayed another hundred million years, if all the water on this world evaporated away in another thousand - well, then, there would only be life on this planet for another thousand. It might not even be that long; where did this little creek lead? To a protected underground reservoir, or to a lake or ocean that was no doubt vaporizing like a shallow puddle? How much of this weedy, scraggly plant life was edible to the resident fauna? Was there any resident fauna left at all? "I fucking hate this mission!" he suddenly burst out, stomping the ground for lack of anything suitable to kick; even three feet away from the creek, the ground was baked so hard that all he accomplished was hurting his foot. "I don't fucking care how much help grabbing the heart of an entire world would be; I don't want to have to fucking stand around and watch it die around me!"
"Demyx, would you chill the fuck out before you have an aneurysm?"
Demyx stopped dead and stared blankly at Axel, sparing a moment to consider how strange it was that Axel was telling him to chill out. Come to think of it, Axel couldn't be having too much fun either; maybe he could handle the heat better, but his eyes were just as light-sensitive as Demyx's, and at least Demyx could tan instead of simply burning to a blistery crisp, and Axel was probably thirsty to boot. "Sorry," he grunted, suddenly feeling like a complete idiot for that little meltdown. "I just -"
"I know," Axel said, before Demyx could find a way to finish the sentence. "You are sensitive and artistic and don't like being in the presence of death. And you're probably baking in full uniform, too, especially with that backpack."
"...Yeah," Demyx said, surprised to hear himself admitting his own discomfort. "Can't even sit down on a rock without burning my ass to the point where I couldn't sit down again for a month. Even through three layers of clothing." He sighed and lowered himself to the ground, sitting carefully on his heels to avoid contact with the scorching soil, and pondered the flowers closely for a few moments. Before long, the heat radiating from the ground became unbearable, and the air seemed too scalding to breathe; moments before he had to either stand up or pass out, he reached out and picked a single flower before levering himself back to his feet. These plants were apparently meant to have multiple flowers on a stalk, but this stalk only had a single blossom at the very end, a smallish three-petaled thing with a faintly sweet scent, and seed pods left behind where its other, older blossoms had no doubt been. "Probably the last beautiful things in this world," he murmured as he tucked it into his pocket.
Even with hearing aids, Demyx's hearing was hardly spectacular; the only way he was able to hold a spoken conversation without being able to see Axel's face was the fact that Axel was well aware of his handicap and (generally) kept his voice raised enough for Demyx to hear clearly. Lost in his own thoughts and not paying attention, he didn't even realize Axel had moved off until he heard him calling sharply. "Get with me already!" Axel commanded, while Demyx stumbled and nearly fell over. "Our best chance of finding any -" Demyx lost the rest of what he was saying in his effort to catch up, but at least Axel stopped yelling at him until he got close enough to hear his raised-normal voice clearly enough. "Kind of you to join me!"
"Sorry..." Demyx said, slowing up to walk next to Axel again. "You know I'm a sensitive, artistic type, prone to standing still and daydreaming at any moment."
"You're hilarious," Axel grunted, pointedly turning his back on Demyx and making conversation that much more difficult. "One of these days, you..." He wandered off muttering too softly for Demyx to make out what he was saying, and Demyx didn't care to find out deeply enough to catch up with him. He just trailed along behind, letting Axel get as far ahead of him as he chose, or simply however far ahead he got before he caught on that Demyx was lagging again. Demyx figured, as Axel wandered out of sight behind a broken rock, that that wouldn't be until Axel either got thirstier than he was proud or decided it was time to stop and camp for the night.
...That wasn't an angry shout. That was a panicked scream. Cursing his inattentiveness and his poor hearing, Demyx ran ahead past the rock, to find Axel surrounded and already bound by several figures in dark gray-brown robes, his hood down and his face a mask of fear; one of the robes was on fire, but its wearer didn't seem any too fazed. Axel was struggling for all he was worth, to no avail, but for some reason, his captors seemed to be going out of their way to keep him restrained without hurting him, or giving him a chance to hurt himself. Which was no doubt a good thing, Demyx decided as he ran at them, ready to summon his sitar; even if the locals were trying to capture them, the fact that they were apparently trying hard not to hurt them must -
No. It was only Axel they didn't want to hurt. And Demyx had just had his stomach ripped open by a metal-tipped spear to prove it, so quickly that he hadn't even seen the spear or the warrior that held it until it was already too late. There was just blood - blood on his robe, blood on the blade, and then blood everywhere.
He could hear Axel crying his name again, as he fell to his knees - he could hear the fear in his voice first, and then the rage - but every sound seemed to come from a thousand miles away. He could see Axel finally work one arm free, and slash the throat of one attacker with a chakram, before the others wrested the chakram from his grip and tied his arm down again without ever so much as pointing a weapon in his direction, all babbling in a language he couldn't understand - but everything looked so dim now, and so distant and unreal. He knew what was happening to him, and what would happen very soon, and he did not want to die, not here, not now, and not like this - but the warrior who'd injured him in the first place could see he was still alive and breathing, and was raising his spear once more for the final blow...and Demyx groaned faintly and toppled onto his side, closing his eyes and willing himself not to breathe. He could hear Axel screaming for him again, pain and grief mixing with the fear and rage now, but he might have been a million miles away...
No. Not now. Not like this. Not while they still have Axel.
He couldn't see or hear where Axel and his captors were - even when he opened his eyes, his hood was blocking his view - but he could sense them, if he focused hard enough, by tracking the blood in their bodies, and he knew they were moving off. Thank the Gods his attacker had decided his "death" was good enough and he didn't need to be killed again just to make sure. Now, pressing his hands against the wound to curb the bleeding, he carefully stood up, and realized almost instantly that there was no way he could do this alone. The injury was too deep; he'd lost too much blood, and now he could barely stand...but he couldn't just leave Axel there, nor did he know whether or not he dared go back home to call for a rescue mission. It was the most obvious thing to do, with Axel kidnapped and him too badly wounded to help, but when this world could die at any moment...
Please. Someone. Anyone. Any God that can hear me in this world. If You intend for me to die here, please make it quick; I don't care if I die alone, but I don't want to linger here just to suffer alone, especially in this hellhole. If You don't intend for me to die here, then please...help me...
No Gods came down to save him, but he didn't drop dead on the spot. Apparently he was on his own again. At one and the same time, he appreciated the level of faith the Gods had in him, and really wished they had less.
Groaning softly, Demyx looked up at the horizon line, in the direction where Axel and his captors were heading. He couldn't see them, but over to the side, in the middle distance, something caught his eye - an artificial construct that looked decidedly out of place in this bleak, stony environment. A blocky, rectangular construct, to be specific. A box. A box that, in yellower light, would probably look blue.
...I get it now. When the Gods can't come themselves, They send the Doctor.
He couldn't tell, right then, if the TARDIS was 500 feet or five miles away, or fifty, but he knew that he couldn't drag his wounded body that far. He would, sooner or later, go back down, and if he went down a second time in the middle of this desert, he would never get up again. And he couldn't rely on the Doctor emerging and finding him, one black speck in the brown, before he faded, especially with night closing in. Could he...he couldn't see clearly enough to visualize the area in front of the TARDIS, not well enough to cast a portal, but...what had the Doctor said? The reason the TARDIS was bigger on the inside was...something about the inside being in a separate dimension...normally portaling into a vehicle was nearly impossible, but if the inside of the TARDIS was a whole separate dimension... With his only other choice being to lie down and die, he tried to picture the interior of the TARDIS as clearly as possible, cast a portal, dragged himself through it, and collapsed as soon as he saw light again.
Fortunately, the Doctor was right at eye level, staring at him as though he'd never seen anything remotely like him before. Blank shock soon turned to something like stark horror, which Demyx assumed - or hoped - was due to his physical condition. "How the hell did you do that?" the Doctor demanded, pointing somewhere behind Demyx. "What are you?"
...Well, shit, it was the portal that had his attention, not the massive gaping wound and associated blood loss. Were the Gods just toying with him or what? "Doctor...i-if I'm s-still alive in...five minutes...I'll tell you," Demyx choked, trying not to spit up too much of his own blood in the process, and closing the portal to remove the distraction. "But I-I gotta...live that long...first."
The Doctor didn't seem to hear him; he just stood up and walked over to where he was lying, stark horror and anger in his eyes. Paying no attention to the wound, he grabbed Demyx's throat, undoubtedly to check his pulse, and then jerked away as if he'd been stung, backing into another corner of the room. "I thought your kind were dead," he hissed.
...Okay. I get it now. Not only do the Gods want me dead, They really want to hammer home the fact that I'm an unwanted, unloved little piece of nothing first. Two minutes ago, I thought the Doctor was totally awesome and cool and the least likely person in the worlds to be put off by not having a pulse and my only hope of living another five minutes, and...fuck this life. I've had it. I'm done.
By all rights, standing up should have been impossible right then, but Demyx was just determined and just angry enough to do it. If he was going to die anyway, and wouldn't be allowed to die near a friendly presence, he'd rather die alone than in the company of someone who'd been a friend right up until they saw a portal and checked his pulse. "S-sorry for...i-inter-rupting..." he choked, blood dripping from his mouth onto the floor as he took one step towards the door, collapsed again, and started to crawl. "If...if it's...a-any...c-c-consol-lation...th-there's...g-gonna be...one less...of -"
...Well. Okay. No, what? Did the Doctor just lock the TARDIS door on him? What the fuck was he doing, if he couldn't stomach the thought of one of his kind being alive but didn't seem keen on letting him die? Demyx was too weak to roll over now, or even raise his head, but his question was soon answered when the Doctor rolled him over and started spraying something on the wound. Demyx had no idea what it was, but all of a sudden, he wasn't still bleeding. He still felt like he was running about six pints low, but not bleeding anymore was a good place to start. "W-what are you...doing?" he asked, his vague, wandering attention mostly on the not-bleeding wound.
Somehow, he managed to make himself look at the Doctor's face, and couldn't read what he saw there. Horror? Contempt? Fear? Anger? Disgust? At himself or at Demyx? What was he looking at - what Demyx was, or who Demyx was? "I'm sorry," the Doctor said, backing off a step and shaking his head slightly. "But - how could you -"
"'Splain later," Demyx mumbled, just before he became unaware of everything.
If Demyx had been less used to waking up in pain in places he'd never seen before, he might have freaked out. As it was, he just relaxed and pondered the unusual ceiling until he had a chance to work things out in his head. As he recalled, he should be dead, and wasn't. Again. If he failed to die too many more times, he'd have to start questioning his own mortality. All right, what had happened this time...he remembered that scorched, dying world, the one they'd been checking out before calling Roxas in to drown it in Heartless...and then Axel was suddenly dragged off by the locals who almost killed him...and when he prayed for help, he saw the TARDIS...and then...
And then what?
And then he remembered all too well what.
He tried to sit up, but the pain stopped him quickly, leaving him to wonder helplessly - where was he now? Not back outside; whatever his issue with Nobodies, at least the Doctor wasn't cruel enough to throw him back out after healing him. But that didn't answer his question - where was he? Still on board the TARDIS? It looked like some kind of hospital environment, all nice and white and sterile and futuristic; he was lying on a bed, with a sheet up to his shoulders, and his torn, bloody clothes had been left on a chair as if he'd want them back. Where was the Doctor? Was he around? Was Demyx still on the TARDIS, or had he been taken to a hospital and abandoned? If so, great, he might live, but then he'd have to go home and call a rescue mission to save Axel, and if the world was dying so swiftly...or if the Doctor had taken him outside of his linear timeline and wasn't sticking around to bring him back...then he'd never go home...
Well, the Doctor was still around. That was good. Demyx did his best to sit up a little, and wound up partly propped up on his elbows and partly on a pillow. The Doctor was just standing there, watching him with a dark expression; Demyx still couldn't entirely interpret the look on his face, but for some reason, that just made him angry. He had no idea why the Doctor might have problems with Nobodies, whether he had a real, justifiable reason or whether it was just your normal, everyday prejudice, but Gods damn it all, it wasn't like he'd asked to be this way, and Gods alone knew what was happening to Axel while the Doctor was too freaked out by his lack of a pulse to even ask what had ripped his stomach open, let alone offer to help. "...Well...I guess I...made it another...five minutes," he murmured, so drained he had to stop for breath every few words. "Which is...kinda surprisin'...since I said I'd...explain...what I am, and...you already...seem to know that." The Doctor turned his gaze to the floor, and Demyx rather hoped he was feeling ashamed of himself. "And since...you don't seem to...to like what I am...woulda been...awful damn easy to...to just -"
"No." The Doctor was looking up at him again now, and he looked - well, angrier than before, hopefully more at the suggestion that Demyx hadn't had a chance to make than at the fact that he existed without a heart. "I watched you die on the floor a dozen times already. As soon as you stood up, I could see it. There was no way I was going to stand back and let that happen to anyone."
...Okay, that surely made sense to the Doctor, but not so much to Demyx. He could probably make it make a degree of sense if he tried, but he didn't have enough energy to try right then. Besides, he was still angry. "Well, that's...very nice of you," he said, trying not to cringe visibly with pain. "Es-specially to...extend the courtesy to...one of my kind."
All right, he scored on that one. The Doctor stared blankly at him for a second, then dropped his gaze to the floor, looking more ashamed than angry. "I'm sorry," he said, which made Demyx feel...well, a little better, but not much, considering. "It's just - I didn't realize any of you had survived the Time War. You shouldn't have. And when I saw the rift, I...reacted without thinking." His eyes suddenly hardened, for reasons that, again, must have made sense to him but didn't make anything approaching sense to Demyx. "Especially on that world."
"...Right. Thank you, Doctor. A few more cryptic statements...that make no sense to me...just what I needed."
The Doctor just gave him an uncomprehending stare, as if Demyx was the one talking nonsense all of a sudden, and then gave him the most intensely penetrating look he'd been subjected to in a long time, as if trying to see right through his brain and into his past. Demyx half-expected him to give him a once-over with his sonic screwdriver/timey-wimey detector/whatever it was actually called, just to be thorough. "It doesn't make any sense," he said finally, as if whatever wasn't making sense was something Demyx was doing on purpose just to confuse him. "You're too young - centuries too young. How could you come so far in time - how could you escape at all, es-" He broke off suddenly, and shook his head. "How could any Meanwhiles even exist outside the Time War?"
All right, officially, what the ever-loving hell. Did the Doctor just use 'meanwhile' as a noun? Because while Demyx wasn't sure what part of speech it actually was, he was pretty sure it wasn't a noun. "Doctor...you're just...confusing me even more."
The Doctor just stared at him with an uncomprehending look. All right, they weren't on two separate pages, they were reading two different books, it seemed. He looked like he was about to try and explain more to Demyx, but words were apparently failing him. "Demyx, do you...know what I mean by a Meanwhile?" he finally asked.
"...I...have to assume it's what...what you call people...who don't have hearts." Really, in context, that was the only answer that made any sense at all.
The Doctor gave him a long, measuring look, then nodded. "There were legends about them...probably through the whole of Gallifrey's history," he said, his voice softer than before but still loud enough for Demyx to hear clearly. "But no one truly believed they were real until near the end of the Time War. The entire concept sounded fantastic - for someone's timeline to become so distorted and convoluted that they were alive and dead not only at the same objective time, but at the same subjective time...but it happened during the Time War. It happened over and over. So many of our greatest warriors...the Sergeant, the Gambler, the Mariner, the Curator...when the timelines got bent one second too far...they would suddenly regenerate, and when they finished regenerating, their hearts were gone. They were still walking around, eating and breathing and everything, but without their hearts...not dead, but not alive either, or more accurately, they were both at once. They were already dead, yes, but meanwhile, they were still alive; they were still alive, but meanwhile, they were already dead. You could see it in their eyes. There was a - a hollow emptiness to them. They were powerful, yes, immensely powerful, and nigh-on impossible to kill or even force to regenerate, but...they were also broken, terribly broken...and they knew too well just how broken they were. It seemed - all they wanted was to either truly live again, or truly die, but they couldn't do either." He'd been looking at the floor throughout most of this explanation, but he suddenly looked sharply up at Demyx. "It's said that they craved the ends of worlds, searching for something about their destruction that could give their hearts back and bring them back to real life."
...Well. No wonder the nature of the world had anything to do with it. Not least because...well, yeah, they had been there to make sure the world was as depopulated as was feasible before calling Heartless in to wipe the whole deal out, which they were doing because the heart of an entire world would make all kinds of progress on Kingdom Hearts, which they were constructing because...well, yeah. Hell, other than the method of creation, everything the Doctor said was lining up, and for all he knew, the Doctor was just wrong about how Meanwhiles were formed and didn't realize there were Heartless involved...it made too much sense, much too much sense. Doubly so if the portal (or rift, as he though the Doctor had called it) was what had first clued him in, because that meant that the Meanwhiles the Doctor was familiar with could do the same thing. Well - really, Heartless had existed as long as the worlds, and Nobodies had to have existed as long as Heartless, so it only made sense that the Organization he knew couldn't possibly be the first collection of Greater Nobodies in all of history...and if these Meanwhiles had been interested in dying worlds possibly being able to restore their hearts, had they been working on their own version of Kingdom Hearts? Demyx's head hurt just to contemplate it, and he was in enough pain already. Watching the Doctor pacing the floor did not help. "Doctor, where - where are we going?" he suddenly had to ask, as much to get off that damn subject as to satisfy his curiosity. Hell, for all he knew, they might still be parked on that world. He couldn't really tell if the TARDIS was in motion or not.
"I'm taking you to a hospital," the Doctor said, not really looking at him, though at least he stopped pacing. "I'm...not a real medical doctor, I just have an honorary doctorate, and...well. You need more done for that wound than I can do myself."
In Demyx's experience, contrary to what many honest men told themselves, honest men weren't the best judges of whether or not a person was lying, liars were. Demyx was a hell of a liar, and he was pretty sure that despite the lack of eye contact, the Doctor was being honest with him. And since the Doctor had been in the room with him since he woke up (so far as he knew) and hadn't had a chance to mess with the TARDIS controls, that meant that had to have been his destination all along. That was a very comforting thing to know. But that also left an even bigger problem - "We gotta go back, though," he said, trying to sit up a little further. "My friend is...still there. The...locals captured him...I dunno why they wanted him so bad, but...we gotta get him outta there..."
The Doctor just stared at him, his expression constantly shifting and hard to interpret. Was that fear? Horror that someone had been left behind on that dying world? Anger (or at least frustration) that Demyx hadn't mentioned this earlier? Resignation that they'd now have to turn around and go back? Concern that he'd have to turn around quickly while he still had a badly wounded passenger? A flicker of...amusement? "You know, Demyx," he finally said, visibly trying not to smile, "this is a time machine."
...Oh. Right. That just made...things ever so much easier. They could...potentially already be back there, rescuing Axel, and yet he could still have enough time to recover first. They might have been right over the next rise or behind the next rock, waiting to chase off Axel's attackers and whisk him off to safety, and the thought of it was enough to make Demyx smile a little. "Awesome...time machine. I'll keep that in mind...all right. Allons-y, Doctor."
"Allons-y." The Doctor actually smiled at that, and half-turned towards the door before turning right back around. "...Wait, what's your friend's name?"
"A-X-E-L, right? All right, I'll remember that..." With that, the Doctor disappeared, and Demyx managed not to laugh until he was all the way gone. Even then, it hurt to laugh very much, but it was just too funny not to.
AN: The Doctor is involved; therefore, shit is going to get weird. How weird? We'll see.